For someone who's not Christian, Amy-Jill Levine has spent a remarkable amount of time thinking about Jesus.
Levine is a New Testament scholar at Vanderbilt University, but unlike most of her colleagues in the field, she is Jewish. This means she is exceptionally adept at having conversations about religion with people who believe different things from her — which can be emotionally fraught.
Levine has navigated this tricky territory for years, and she's good at it. She's genuine, she doesn't talk around difficult subjects, she uses humor when necessary. And, she's also mastered some basic ground rules.
"If one goes into an interreligious dialogue, you do not represent your entire tradition. You come in as an individual and you represent only you. You don't have to be an expert on anything. And don't be afraid to ask questions that might be problematic because unless you ask, you will never learn."
The key to having meaningful conversations about religion, she says, is to tap into a concept called "holy envy," which she describes as "the ability to see in somebody else's religious tradition something meaningful, beautiful and inspirational."
"We are magnificent creatures in all our diversity, and I don't want some sort of homogenous, lowest-common-denominator theology," she says. "I want those differences to be celebrated, and I want people to have the ability of saying, 'That's not my tradition, but I see where you get it, and I see the beauty in it.'
"I don't have to colonize it. I don't have to call it my own. I don't have to recreate it, but I can, as a visitor, appreciate it."
This is an excerpt from the WPLN podcast Movers & Thinkers. Listen to the audio above or hear the full episode here.